M.2? Yes Please!
Some of you may be wondering what M.2 is or why it is called “M.2”. M.2 is an internal interface for various devices including storage. It used to be called “Next Generation Form factor” or NGFF for short. It was intended to be an improvement for the already in use PCIe mini card also known as “mSATA”. mSATA had some advantages over traditional SATA devices, but also had a glaring shortcoming: devices could only be one-sided (modules only on one side of the PCB) within a pre-defined single size. This limited the amount of storage one could put on mSATA’s pre-defined standard. This shortcoming gave rise to NGFF, which aimed to offer various lengths, capacity, connection types and increase the speed of the devices using NGFF. By allowing for double-sided chips, the new NGFF doubled capacity within the same space as mSATA. Along with the increased flexibility of module placement, capacity has room to grow as technology improves. After all of the specs were hammered out, PCI-SIG changed the name to M.2, mSATA ver.2. It may bear the name, but M.2 is not backwards-compatible with mSATA, and mSATA can not accept M.2 cards since the keying (the prongs you plug the device in with) is different. However, I have seen some adapters on the market that make these exchanges possible. M.2 devices will come in lengths of 30,42, 60, 80 and 110 mm with a width of 22mm. They are most commonly notated as “2242” or “2280”, meaning 22mm wide and 42/80mm long. 30mm devices will be in tablets, ultra-thin notebooks, or any other device where space is at a premium. 42mm and up will be compatible with motherboards supporting the M.2 spec.
There are multiple types of devices that can connect to a M.2 slot, which uses SATA3 or PCI express lanes for data and power. USB 3.0 can also be an option, but for our purposes we will exclude it from this conversation. SATA 3.0 cards operate up to the standard 6Gb/s (600MB/s) speeds as all other SATA3 devices can. M.2 also offers a direct connection to the PCIe lanes for even faster devices. PCIe Gen2 at x2 or x4 lanes can move data at 8Gb/s(800MB/s) or 16Gb/s(1.6GB/s) respectively. While PCIe GEN 3 at 4 lanes can max out a 32Gb/s(3.2GB/s) for some smokin’ fast data movement. As of now there are no PCIe Gen 3 M.2 SSDs available. All of the drives listed for sale at the moment will be SATA3, PCIe GEN 2 at 2x or 4x. The faster the drive, the more it will cost. The drive we have today is of the SATA3 variety operating at 6Gb/s.